One of my (many and abundant) gifts is that I have a really, really great sense of direction. When we were in Paris a few years ago, I was able to navigate all the twisty-turny alleyways armed with only a small book of street maps and my wits. Although I couldn’t have told you which direction was north, I somehow always had an innate sense of where the Seine was, and would direct us accordingly.
The flip side of this is that feeling lost or disoriented is incredibly terrifying for me. This includes feeling lost and disoriented in a whoa what street am I on and how did I get here? way and also in a larger, more general whoa what the hell is happening in my life right now? sense.
Change is very disorienting for me. I am the kind of person who loves routine, who thrives on knowing what will happen next. I eat the same thing for breakfast every morning. I am not the kind of person you want to take with you on a spontaneous backpacking trip to the Amazon. I find it difficult and painful to break out of any routine, even one that is seriously not working for me. Letting go of a routine makes me feel unmoored, as if I’m sitting in an oarless, rudderless boat, watching the shoreline shrink as I drift out to sea. I usually experience a brief moment of breathless euphoria at my newfound freedom before total panic sets in.
All of this has been a very verbose way of leading up the fact that this morning, I registered Theo for daycare. Next week I am going back to work full time.
Let’s get a few things out of the way: I think that daycare is awesome. I went to daycare and loved it. I think that it will be hugely beneficial to Theo, in part because of the socialization it will offer him, and also because of the structure he will have there. Although this particular daycare costs a little more than we were hoping to pay, it came highly recommended by a friend, and everyone I’ve mentioned it to has something positive to say. I am really, really happy we got a spot there.
But I still feel panicked.
Partly it’s because I’m worried about how the change will impact Theo. Will he understand that I’m coming back at the end of the day? Will he think that I’ve abandoned him? Will he miss me unbearably?
Another thing that freaks me out is the fact that no one there will know Theo as well as I do. How will they be able to interpret his needs properly? How will they understand what he’s saying? Will they be able to learn to speak Theo?
I was talking about this last night with Scott, a super lovely, laid back philosopher/yogi who teaches at our studio. He had some really smart things to say, but when I tried to repeat them to Matt, I couldn’t get the words right. So I emailed Scott and asked him to remind me of what he’d said, and this is what he sent back to me:
What you said to me was that you were worried people would fail to be as a good a mother to Theo as you are. That they would not be able to read his subtle gestures and give him what he needs when he needs it.
I said that that was exactly what he needs.
“The good-enough mother…starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure” (Winnicott, 1953)
Having all of his needs met in a relationship were no one is failing to provide for him as he demands actually turns out to be disadvantage, as Theo is coming to know who he is precisely through those failures. These are not grand or abusive failures where he becomes scared to develop into his own self, but just the right kind of misattunement that will occur at a daycare where someone doesn’t know him as well as you. And when misattunement happens those caretakers will be able to support him and help make reparations with him. This is what is actually so important: that his caregivers fail to meet his needs and yet in an environment of love they support him through that failure and help him realize that he is a unique person in relationship with others who can survive these failures of connection.
It is what used to happen in extended family care all the time and now must happen in daycare scenarios. It’s an important part of child development that Theo needs at this time. Sounds weird but you send your child off to an other who you expect will not do as a good job as you so that Theo can grow into the independent and capable person he needs to be.
Which was exactly what I needed to hear.
The third facet of my panic is all about me:
What if I don’t like working?
I will be managing a yoga studio (which I already do, but I will be putting in more hours), and trying to pick up some classes to teach to supplement our income. I’ve never done this as a full-time job before. Scratch that, I’ve never taught an actual class, for real money before – everything I’ve done so far has mostly been volunteer work or freebies for my friends. What if I hate teaching yoga as an actual job? What if I can’t find any classes to teach?
What if I fail?
Looking at it one way, I will paying twice the cost of the average university tuition in order to put Theo into daycare so that I can go work at a job that I’m not sure I will love, a decision that might leave both of us miserable. In this scenario, both of us are in the oarless, rudderless rowboat, heading slowly but surely for open water.
Looking at it in another way, maybe this is the only way (or, at least, the best way) for us to grow. We’ve spent a year and a half living in an almost totally symbiotic relationship; maybe now it’s time for us to break free of each other and begin to discover (or rediscover, in my case) who we are as unique individuals.
Maybe we will both love this new arrangement. Maybe he will flourish in daycare, and I will realize that I am finally doing work that I love and feel passionate about.
Perhaps this will give us the chance to develop the skills we need to make or find our own oars, or discover a way to get back to shore under our own power.
Or maybe we will learn to love living at sea and, instead of turning back to what is familiar to us, we will take our homemade oars and chart a course for adventure.